Conservation and education

Otters are a charismatic species that can be used to drive conservation initiatives and inspire people. However, due to their elusive nature, live-monitoring is extremely difficult.

Living at the top of the aquatic food chain, the otter is a key indicator of the health of aquatic systems.

Two Eurasian otters in wood
Image by David Bailey

Otter facts

Natural history

The Eurasian otter:

  • has the widest geographical range of all otter species
  • is the only otter that is native to the UK
  • can be found in both freshwaters and coastal habitats
  • is solitary, elusive and predominantly nocturnal
  • feeds predominantly on fish, but takes a wide diversity of other prey eg crayfish, anurans (frogs and toads), birds, invertebrates and small mammals
  • has litters of 1-3 cubs, born at any time of year.

Decline and recovery

Otter populations declined dramatically in the 1950s-70s and disappeared from most of England. Declines were probably related to the use of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). Population recovery started after legislation restricted or banned many EDCs, in addition to other conservation legislation and improvements in water quality.

Reintroductions were carried out in some areas in the 1980s and 1990s to help recovery. The last release of captive bred otters was in 1999. Rehabilitated otters (eg after injury) are occasionally but infrequently released (only 4-5 per year). Mortality on roads, entanglement in illegally set crayfish traps and fyke nets, and habitat degradation continue to have a negative impact on otter population. The Eurasian otter is still categorised as ‘near-threatened’ on the IUCN red list of threatened species.

Monitoring

The solitary, elusive and predominantly nocturnal behaviour of the Eurasian otter makes monitoring very challenging. Direct monitoring methods include camera trapping and radio-tracking; indirect monitoring methods include track surveys, spraint surveys and molecular scatology (genetic analysis of spraint material). Spraint and track survey have been used since the 1970s in National Surveys to assess the rate of otter recovery. However, while most of these methods can contribute information on population distributions, and others can contribute information on behaviour or individual identity, there is no easy way to answer questions such as 'how many otters are there'.

Conservation in the field

Practical conservation measures, such as building artificial holts, are used to enhance otter habitat. For more information on how to get involved with otter conservation in your area please contact your local Wildlife Trust.

Legislation

Eurasian otters have legal protection in the following laws and regulations:

  • Appendix II of the Bern Convention 1979
  • Annex 2 and 4 of the EC Habitats Directive
  • the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended)
  • the Conservation of Habitats and Species regulations 2010 (replacing the Conservation (Natural Habitats, & c.) Regulations 1994)
  • Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) 1995 priority species
  • Appendix I of The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) 1997.